Volson charts own path

Zack Volson

DRAKE – Early in Zack Volson’s officiating career, there was a tip-ball that he was unsure how to call, so he initiated a referee conference in the middle of the court. A familiar face greeted him, as his high school basketball coach Kip Brandt was officiating with him that day.

The veteran Brandt was certain of his call, and he also wanted to ensure Volson learned from the experience in a way that would make him a better official.

“Since I blew it, he made me signal what was going to happen,” said Volson. “Definitely, got some fans that were not happy there, making it difficult.”

Nonetheless, the youngster learned a valuable lesson from the elder Brandt.

“No matter what you do, there are going to be people who are going to be upset,” said Volson. “You know, I definitely thought I saw that tip, but learning the communication skills with him [was important]. I think the main reason he made me make that call was so I can realize that we’re a group or family of officials, so we have to have each other’s back.”

Volson, a native of Balfour and a junior at Drake-Anamoose High School, is a registered official in North Dakota, and one day hopes to officiate at the highest levels of sport including NCAA Division I football games.

Like so many of his coaches and mentors, Volson decided to officiate as a way to pass on sports to younger kids.

“Without officials, we can’t have the games that we do. Because they would just turn into recess,” said Volson. “Nobody really wants to watch recess.”

After several seasons, refereeing peewee and junior high games, Volson has some advice for anyone thinking about becoming an official, and it sounds a lot like a certain shoe company’s slogan.

“Give it a try and just do a couple of games,” said Volson. “You know, the first game is very nerve racking; it’s not going to go well. I know that from experience. But as you go further down and do more games, you’re going to begin to learn more about the game and how it should be officiated. And it just becomes a smooth transition.”

That love of officiating and giving back to the next generation is a major reason why Drake-Anamoose High School principal Kim Brandt chose Volson as her school’s nominee for the 2024 NDHSAA Distinguished Student Award. Last Friday, he learned he was one of just six finalists selected from across the state.

Volson spoke about what it would mean to him personally to win the award.

“I would feel very accomplished. I mean, it just gives me a sense of feeling that all of what I’ve done for the community, and how I’ve helped with all these extracurriculars; how I’ve helped my peers grow to what they are; it would give me a sense that I did something good for the community.”

Winning the award would also allow him to move out of his brothers’ shadows and begin to forge his own identity of success.

Volson comes from a football family, and in fact, he plays on the Velva/Drake-Anamoose/Garrison Aggies offensive and defensive lines, as well as basketball and golf.

His older brothers Tanner and Cordell were both All-Americans at North Dakota State University before getting the opportunity to play in the NFL. Tanner signed as an undrafted free-agent with the Los Angeles Chargers before being cut prior to the 2019 season. Cordell is entering his third season with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he is a left guard. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft and played in 36 consecutive games to begin his career.

His cousins all played for the University of Jamestown.

“That’s definitely something that I struggle with, and I think about every day,” said the younger Volson. “How do I be my own person? That’s why I kind of reach out to other extracurricular activities besides just football, that way I gain friends in that area that maybe don’t know a whole bunch about the football aspect.”

According to Volson, it gives him a chance to make friends that just know him just as Zack before he tells them about his more famous brothers.

He is also extremely proud of being from Drake-Anamoose, so much so that initially he was vehemently opposed to the co-op with Velva and Garrison because he didn’t want to see the small towns lose their identities.

However, even that experience offered lessons to Volson.

“I learned that when communities can come together, we can create great things. And that was a struggle for me to get through. I was struggling against the co-op. I have so much hometown pride. I love my school and our mascot.”

Volson is much more than just his presence on the athletic field. He loves how numbers go together, and in nearly every organization he belongs to, he is chosen to be the treasurer. Two of Volson’s favorite classes in school are spreadsheets and accounting. He also finds his history teachers funny.

“I really enjoy history,” said Volson.

He is extremely active in his school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter, and he was recently elected as state treasurer for the North Dakota High School FBLA for the 2024-25 school year.

Currently, he plans on attending Minot State University after graduation to study either accounting or business education, and he was particularly impressed with the school’s FBLA advisor Jan Repnow.

Becoming a business teacher would allow Volson to pursue that other passion of his.

“That’s why I am choosing something in education for my career, where I can have those times off and go officiate high school sports.”

Through it all, Volson will always hold a debt of gratitude for those before him, and a sense of responsibility for those coming up behind.

Volson wrote the following in his application essay:

“Knowledge, experience, time-management, trust, and guidance were all given to me by my mentors, and I must give it to the next generation! At that point, I experienced joy of finding a way to give back through officiating, but I also understand I must continue to be led by those who got me where I am, so I can better lead those of tomorrow.”


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